Black chefs are still being overlooked for that elusive Michelin star, even in Atlanta where almost every second person is Black.
In the inaugural guide for the Georgia capital, the longtime restaurant arbiter found just five dining rooms that were deserving of a star, which the guide defines as “high quality cooking, worth a stop.” There were no two- or three-star restaurants.
And the guide failed to award stars to any restaurant that is Black-owned or with a kitchen run by a Black chef, in a city where traditional African American cooking is crucial to the local food scene. It continues a trend that has seen only six Black chefs be awarded a Michelin star.
“Atlanta is a diverse city, and, relatedly, we are highlighting more than just classic Southern cuisine,” said the chief inspector for North America, who spoke anonymously because of their position. They pointed to three Black-led restaurants on the list although none received higher distinction than Bib Gourmand, the “cheap eat” category, or “recommended,” which is an all-purpose designation for any restaurant Michelin wants to recognize without awards.
One of the stand-out, and Black-owned Bib Gourmand winners, is the Busy Bee. The iconic Atlanta cafe, operated by Tracy Gates, has been around since the late 1940s, serving daily changing specials such as pan-fried cubed steak (on Tuesdays), chicken and waffles and fried catfish.
Another Bib Gourmand winner is Bomb Biscuit Co., which specialises in its namesake product with sandwiches like SEC (sausage, egg and American cheese) and the Pimento Chick, with chicken sausage and melty cheese, as well as platters, like hash and eggs. The chef and owner Erika Council’s grandmother Geraldine Dortch hosted bake sales to raise money for the Civil Rights movement.
The five restaurants that were awarded one star prioritize American and Japanese cooking.
One is the esteemed, 30-year-old Bacchanalia, from chefs Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison, who prioritise local products including vegetables from their Summerland Farm in Cartersville, Georgia, and dairy products. The tasting menu offers dishes like poached lobster accompanied by potato, corn and chorizo, and duck with espresso and butternut squash. Another winner is Lazy Betty, where chefs Ron Hsu and Aaron Phillips serve a modern American $110 ( ₹ 9,149 approx.), 4-course menu with options including roasted lamb loin with crusted salsify and onion tapenade. At Hayakawa in Midtown, chef Atsushi Hayakawa serves an omakase menu at his small sushi counter that goes for $315 ( ₹ 26,200 approx.).
Among the restaurants missing from Michelin’s list are One Flew South which has outposts at both Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and now in the Beltline (it made travellers actually want to go to the airport). Chef Todd Richards offers dishes like green beet soup with miso cream, and coffee-rubbed lamb ribs with fig puree.
Richards, also culinary director at Jackmont Hospitality, said it's important for reviewers like Michelin to recognise the cooking traditions in Atlanta and the South. “The techniques that we utilise in Southern and soul food are still the same techniques that are used in French, German, Chinese, Japanese — we all use the same techniques,” Richards said in an interview.
He noted though that until Black chefs receive the same financial backing to start their own restaurants as chefs from other backgrounds, no list can be truly representative. “Until all those opportunities are equal across the board, we're not going to necessarily see the amount of of Black-owned restaurants that you would think that the city would have, especially with such a large Black population.'
At the live event in Atlanta on Tuesday evening, Michelin also gave out a handful of other awards. Among them was the Sommelier award which went to The Chastain’s Juan Fernando Cortés. They also bestowed two Green stars, which highlight eco-friendly practices. One went to Bacchanalia for its emphasis on the farm and notable composting program, the other to The Chastain, where there’s a regenerative garden and another ambitious composting program.
Below is the list of Michelin stars and Bib Gourmands in Atlanta.
Antico Pizza Napoletana
Bomb Biscuit Co.
The Busy Bee
Fred’s Meat & Bread
Heirloom Market BBQ